Substance-abuse programs in hundreds of First Nations communities are in jeopardy amid reports that Ottawa is planning to eliminate funding for the Canada Drug Strategy and Tobacco Demand Reduction Strategy.
On the chopping block are the internationally recognized Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and National Addiction Awareness Week. The Canada Drug Strategy also funds NNADAP substance-abuse workers in all the Cree communities.
Native activists say they were told of the cuts by a high-level government source in December.
Health and Welfare Canada spokesman John Hinds would not confirm or deny any funding cuts.
“You’ll have to wait until the budget comes in,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone can give 100-percent assurance on any funding issues. Money is really tight right now. The government is currently looking at all programs to see if they’re effective.”
The government apparently considered spreading the cuts out more evenly instead of wiping out two entire health strategies. But in the end, it was decided to just eliminate the drug and tobacco strategies. One government source reportedly said other health programs like those for seniors and people with AIDS have “a lobby.”
“My reaction was, ‘Oh, you want a lobby? I’ll give you a lobby,” said Maggie Hodgson, a founder of National Addiction Awareness Week.
Despite scant media attention, Hodgson helped spark a grassroots campaign to stop the cuts which has caught fire across the country.
Already, Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s office has been flooded by 50,000 postcards protesting the cuts. Another 40,000 cards are on their way, Hodgson said.
“On a personal level, it strikes me right to the heart. This thing I had grandmothered was going under,” said Hodgson, who is also executive director of the Nechi Institute in Edmonton.
Hodgson has watched National Addiction Awareness Week grow to involve 1,500 First Nations communities across Canada. Last year, the week’s organizers sent out 2 million pieces of material ranging from information to pencils, rulers and posters on substance abuse. It receives $250,000 from the Canada Drug Strategy every year. Every dollar from Ottawa is matched by five from the communities.
“We’ve been hearing those rumours as well. We heard there may be fairly significant cuts,” said Richard Garlick of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
He said the centre may not survive if it loses its $1.4 million in federal funding. Hodgson said that would be a great loss for Natives because the centre does a lot of work with First Nations organizations and provides them with important resources.